This is something I’ve been meaning to do for the last 2 weeks or so; pen some thoughts on my trip to Leipzig following Aston Villa in their final Pre-Season game. It might be a bit of ramble but it was a poignant trip for me and I’ll explain as we go through this piece, so stay with me!
Since March this year, I’ve penned my thoughts on certain topics. Sometimes its been a match preview for matches in which Villa have been playing. Other times its just been telling my stories of frustration and difficulties with certain aspects of life, and, at other times its been bringing those two things together and explaining how the two can sometimes go hand in hand. To me, the one major aspect of combatting mental health is to find an outlet, in which I’ve discussed before.
Now, I’m not going to go on about my story again. It’s been well documented on this blog in previous posts but I’ll touch on on part which always sticks in my head. Every single person struggles with their mental health at some stage of their lives. It’s how you tackle it and the tools you use to overcome it which is vital. As I discussed before, that tool for me was Aston Villa Football Club. Not that I am a newcomer to Aston Villa, far from it. I have been a Season Ticket Holder for 20 consecutive years and a regular away game goer. My first Villa game was a 5-0 home victory in the League Cup in 1999 over Chester City at Villa Park. The same season we got to the F.A Cup Final over Chelsea at the old Wembley Stadium. My first away game at Villa was at the old Filbert Street in Leicester. The game where George Boateng notoriously threw Paul Dickov’s boot on the roof of the stand. So my Villa love affair started very early and I’ve seen a range of emotions as a Villan, unfortunately given my age, not many high’s. Us younger folk haven’t had that much to cheer about since following the boys in Claret & Blue.
So where was I? That’s it, touching on my previous story. So for the latter part of 2018 and early part of 2019 I felt lost, for one reason or another. I’d gone through some tough times and needed something to get myself out of it. Fortunately for me, away day fever took hold of me and the Stoke City away game in February re-ignited my passion for a Villa away day. So much, that I haven’t missed one since. It made me realise how important this was to me. How much I needed this football club and that fix in my life. Around the same time, I’d started to expand and meet new friends via Twitter. I think I had around 149 followers on Twitter in the new year, fast forward a few months and I’ve just hit 1,300 followers and converse with these people on a daily basis. I have met some people through Twitter which I’d honestly call real friends. A few years ago, before the Social Media craze, meeting friends via an online forum or similar was seen as strange. It wasn’t the cool thing to do. We would all go to these away matches and not really converse or know our fellow Villa fans. Certainly not as much as we all do now. So, meeting these people has been pretty important for me. Its not only surrounded me with new friends with this one huge factor in common, but its also allowed me to realise there are so many good people out there who do care for you and how we are all one big Villa family. There is even a handful of people on Twitter who regularly converse with us Villans who aren’t even Villa fans but find the conversation and banter worthwhile.
With Villa’s record breaking run at the end of the season, and our play-off final triumph at Wembley in May, interest in the club could not have been higher. The club announced its pre-season programme and we had the regular sell outs at the likes of Shrewsbury and Walsall. Villa announced their final Pre-Season game would take place against RB Leipzig, in the Eastern German city on 4th August. The furthest I’d followed Villa abroad in Pre-Season was to Dublin some years back, so I had an inclination to try and go to this one. So I did.
We flew to Berlin on my birthday, took in some of the sights of the German Capital and boarded a high-speed rail service from Berlin to Leipzig where we spent 3 nights. What a beautiful, quaint city. Very friendly people, good beer, decent weather & really a perfect weekend with Villa in town. Joining us, was over 900 other Villa supporters, all taken varying routes to get to Leipzig. From jetting into Nuremberg, Dusseldorf, Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin and Prague, to driving all the way from Dudley using the Channel Tunnel and one guy we met even getting the train all the way from Wolverhampton to Leipzig. It was incredible seeing so many claret and blue supporters in Leipzig for what was an incredible weekend. Villa fans took over a quaint, cobbled street where the Kildare Irish Pub was situated and this was the Villa’s base camp from Thursday-Sunday. On the first night, we met a few Villa fans whilst waiting for the large amount of others to follow on Friday. Friday was an incredible sight. Various different flags adorning the cobbled streets of Leipzig. Castle Bromwich, Great Barr, Redditch, Prague- you name it. The Villa were in town. Friday night was rocking, drinks were flowing and Villa fans were in good voice. There is some cracking videos on social media of Villa fans that evening in Leipzig. Followed by an early start on the Saturday morning back in the pub and then what followed was a good 3-1 win for Villa over a strong Leipzig side. Saturday night was a lively one again back in Leipzig as we closed off our Pre-Season programme.
Going back onto the social media part, I put so many faces to names during this weekend and meeting people from ‘Villa Twitter’ for the first time, however feeling like you’ve known these people forever. It’s a strange feeling which I can’t properly explain. I spoke to so many good people throughout the weekend, all with differing stories of how they have followed Aston Villa throughout the years. It really was a pleasure to be there. From 50+ year old Villa fans to 17-18 year old Villa fans, all with very different experiences following the club but all there for one reason, to support the club we love. Heck, I even had my five minutes of fame, showing off my Jack Grealish tattoo to the world on a well known Villa fan’s YouTube channel (top bloke and top channel by the way)!
It was a brilliant weekend, one to cherish and remember. For me, it was really poignant. It re-iterated in my mind how big Aston Villa is but how even being big, it keeps that unique feeling about it. That feeling that no other club is like ours. No other supporters are like ours. We have that friendly, outgoing, Brummie personality, whilst being ambitious and passionate at the same time. Social Media gets a lot of stick and used in the wrong way, it can certainly pose its problems, however, it can be used so effectively aswell. The Villa Twitter platform is buzzing at the moment and I thought to myself only the other day, I wonder if any other club has their fans as active on Twitter as we do? I find it incredible that a lot of have met through the internet but after all that, we are all Villa fans who share our passion and hobby.
I thank all my Villa friends through Social Media. It was so worthwhile to join in with, it helped me immensely and to the guys I met in Leipzig, it was a pleasure!
Up the Villa!